(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
Throughout his three-year career at Arizona State, it’s been blatantly obvious that Ryan Kellogg’s importance cannot be quantified by numbers or peripherals.
Sure, he’s well on his way to becoming just the second pitcher in school history to lead his team in wins, but low strikeout totals and a relatively high batting average against (compared to his fellow rotation mates) have both depressed his draft stock and caused his ERA to perennially hover in the mid- to upper-three’s.
In a sentence, his box score output throughout his career has been absolutely useful and even above average, but not necessarily ace-like.
Instead, it’s been intangibles—leadership and consistency—that have been his true calling cards.
For a Sun Devil team—losers of seven of their last ten and faltering in the conference standings—in dire need of leadership and consistency, Kellogg received a vote of confidence from his manager Tracy Smith and toed the rubber for his first-career series-opening start on Thursday night against Washington State.
In return, Kellogg provided an outing on short rest loaded not only with his signature stability but also with a newfound electricity, and led Arizona State to a 5-0 win over the Cougars.
“I’m not that surprised,” head coach Tracy Smith said. “I think we’ve created this beast in college baseball where guys throw once a week. I don’t want to say we baby them because that’s sort of been the norm the past few years, but it’s probably not unusual that he’s sharp the more he’s on the mound. We needed it. We don’t feel like we have the depth we need right now and we needed that in this series. To get game one on Friday and only use one guy and 100 pitches that’s, strategically, good for us.”
In many ways it was a vintage Ryan Kellogg start, as the left-hander tossed a five-hit shutout, throwing 75 of his mere 100 pitches for strikes, 22 of 31 first-pitch strikes, and retired 16 in a row at one point. The complete game is Kellogg’s fourth of his career, second this season and also his second straight nine-inning outing.
“Usually this is a bullpen day for me, so I guess it’s just a really elongated bullpen. Just had to go out there and give it all I had,” Kellogg said. “Yeah it’s a short week, but we do a lot of work in the weight room to make sure we’re ready for stuff like this. I think it’s just a good test of what life will be like playing pro ball.”
“I try not to think about it too much,” the left-hander continued. “At the end of the day it’s just one inning at a time. I know we had a shorter bullpen this week after we lost Eder (Erives). Just went out there and saw what I had, (and) emptied the tank.”
Yet in many other ways, it was an outing that mirrored a bonafide ace. His 11 strikeouts were a season-high, finishing just one short of matching a career-high, and his four hits allowed were the second-fewest he’s permitted all season.
In the early stages, Kellogg leaned heavily on his offspeed stuff as his putaway pitch—he had seven strikeouts through four innings and five of them came via the breaking ball. As the game progressed, however, he became more economical and pitch-count savvy and pounded home fastballs low in the zone.
“Threw a lot of sliders and changeups early on trying to get those strikeouts when we needed them in those big situations,” Kellogg said. “Started going back to the fastball and started trying to command that a little bit more and sort of make the other pitches become more of a strikeout pitch as opposed to a ‘get me over for strike one.’”
“Pitching’s hard, but it’s not that hard,” Smith added. “If you locate two pitches in the zone, you’ll win and you’ll win a lot in college. If you can do that down in the zone you’re going to get a lot of strikeouts in college. He was able to do that the last couple of weeks. It was a combination both—he was on tonight and maybe they were a little too aggressive in counts. When he’s showing he can drop his stuff in there consistently, you can’t eliminate one pitch. If you do, you’re going to be sitting 0-2.”
Kellogg’s lone scare came in the eighth inning after he allowed back-to-back one-out singles, and once again the ninth when Cougars’ leadoff hitter Derek Chapman reached on a passed ball strikeout and Wes Hatten followed with a poked single.
Though both situations were very much reminiscent of Kellogg’s late-game sputtering in his last start against UCLA, he avenged those demons on Thursday night—proving his head coach’s faith in him well-deserved.
“At this point, and I’m not trying to be negative with what’s going on in our ‘pen, but I’ll say it publicly because I’ve said it privately to my team, we’re going to go with what we feel is our best option. Our best option right now is a Ryan Kellogg at 80 percent versus some of the other guys at 100 percent. And nothing against them. I mean this guy is competitive, he’s experienced—all the stuff that you want. I’m going to go home at night knowing that if we lose, it’s going to be with our best guy. I have no issues when a guy’s aggressive and giving you everything he’s got,” Smith said.
Kellogg’s run support was minimal, as the Sun Devils only managed seven hits themselves—six of them off Cougars’ starter Sean Hartnett in his seven innings of work.
Nevertheless, the offense flexed its muscles when three consecutive singles culminated in Trever Allen’s two-RBI knock in the second inning, RJ Ybarra laced an RBI double in the seventh, and Brian Serven stroked two-RBI double in the eighth.
Though offensive talking points popped up throughout the game—specifically, Allen providing the initial jolt in his final home series of his storied ASU career; Ybarra picking up steam (hitting .375 since his homerun against Tennessee Tech 10 games ago); and Serven breaking out of a nasty 4-for-40 slump with a two-bagger—it was Kellogg advancing to 8-1 on the season that stole the show.
“He’s the guy I don’t worry about. This is him,” Smith said. “It was great he threw a five-hit shutout at 100 pitches and almost matched his career-high in strikeouts, but that’s been him all year. Maybe not the win, maybe not the strikeouts. But he’s been the guy who just goes and does his job with an aggressive demeanor, a confident demeanor every single time. We need more guys to do that.”
With a game one win, Arizona State returns tomorrow seeking its first sequence of back-to-back wins since April 24. Like Kellogg, left-hander Brett Lilek was bumped up in the rotation as well, and subsequently, he’ll get the start tomorrow against Washington State’s Joe Pistorese.